Open versus full-face and modular helmets

Helmet laws - helmet petition, helmet forum helmet forum right edge open

Some riders will only wear open-face helmets, some will only wear full-face, others wear different helmets in different conditions and some only wear flip-up or modular helmets.

So which is best and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of helmet?

We don’t want to preach to you about what sort of helmet you should wear.

However, we have provided you with a list of advantages and disadvantages of each so you can decide what to wear.

Just make sure you do wear a helmet and that it is in good condition and properly approved for your location.

Open-face helmets: AdvantagesFlying Eyes sunglasses cause no pain open

Advantages of an open-face helmet are surprisingly many.

For a start, it is way cooler in both attitude and temperature. I was once told that if you don’t wear an open-face helmet you are not a real biker.

Certainly you can look much cooler in an open-face helmet as well as feel much cooler.

Shark Helmets Heritage model
Shark Heritage

It also allows the rider to smoke, smile or poke their tongue at other motorists and scratch their face.

You can talk easier to fellow riders and pillions in nan open helmet and hear what they are saying more clearly.

It also allows you to hear what is going on around you such as the screeching of tyres which could be a warning. You can also hear horns and the sirens of emergency vehicles.

Open-face helmets are much lighter and therefore less fatiguing than heavy full-face helmets.

Because your face is visible, you can often fill up at service stations, sometimes even those that usually require you to remove your helmet.

But the biggest advantage is that you can see better and with a wider range of view. So there are no blind spots.

This is a primary safety advantage of open-face helmets which is of great use in heavy traffic.

Open-face helmets: disadvantages

Davida Speedster V3 helmet with Flying Eyes glasses open
Ugly melon on show!

However, the secondary safety protection of an open-face helmet in a crash is low.

The Icon Airframe full-face helmet includes crash statistics printed on the shell to show the likelihood of that part of your head hitting the tar in a crash.

Icon Airframe Statistic motorcycle helmet open
Icon Airframe Statistic motorcycle helmet

The chin bar area hits the ground in 19.4% of crashes! So open-face helmets will not protect your face.

Another disadvantage is that you have to wear glasses to protect your eyes.

You usually need to wear a face mask to protect your face from sunburn, windburn, rain, cold, bugs, stones and other highway detritus.

These face masks can be uncomfortable and annoying and if you cop a face full of rain, they can even impede your breathing.

While they may be lighter and therefore less fatiguing, the noise and wind can have their own fatiguing effects on a long ride.

And, if you’ve got an ugly mug, it is on show for all to see!

Full-face helmets: Advantages

Biltwell Lane Splitter Rusty Butcher retro motorcycle helmet open
Biltwell Lane Splitter Rusty Butcher is DOT and ECE approved

The obvious main advantage of a full-face helmet is the added protection it provides your chin and face.

Full-face helmets also offer more protection from noise, sun, wind, rain, cold, bugs and stones.

But there are many other advantages as well.

Sport and entertainment stars often cite the anonymity of a full-face helmet – plus a tinted visor – as a significant advantage.

Some of us older riders also like the fact that it disguises our age.

That’s probably why so many attractive young female motorists wave at me! For all they know, I could be Keanu Reeves.

There is also no need to wear glasses for protection if you have a full-face helmet with a visor and not even sunglasses if you have a tinted visor.

Because of their insulation from the environment, they are less fatiguing on long trips.

There is also a nice cocooned feeling about wearing a full-face helmet.

Full-face helmets: Disadvantages

Valentino Rossi Mugello AGV helmet open
Rossi’s Mugello AGV helmet

Conversely, the immediate feeling of putting on a full-face helmet after wearing an open-face helmet is one of isolation and claustrophobia.

You feel stifled and less free!

In hot weather, they can also get very hot and limit the airflow to your face.

That can make them very tiring on long rides on hot days.

Most likely you will be asked to remove your helmet at service stations, especially if it has a tinted visor.

A full-face helmet reduces your ability to talk to your pillion or riding colleagues. They can’t hear you and you can’t hear them.

It also restricts your ability to hear important traffic sounds such as screeching tyres, horns and sirens.

Full-face helmets usually provide a limited field of vision with blind spots to your rear three-quarters. The Bell Bullitt is an exception.

Harley-Davidson Vintage Stripe Bell Bullitt retro helmet
Harley-Davidson Vintage Stripe Bell Bullitt retro helmet

It can also be a pain to open the visor and wedge your finger in to scratch an itch on your chin.

Modular helmets: Advantages

AGV Sportmodular carbon modular helmet open
AGV Sportmodular modular helmet is made of carbon and lighter than most

Advocates of flip-up or modular helmets say they combine the advantages of open and and full-face helmets.

They feel they are safer, yet allow more freedom, especially if it is a helmet that you can legally ride with the chin bar in the open position.

To find out if your modular helmet can be used when riding, check the ECE22.05 label inside. If it has J and P in the serial number, it can legally be used with the chin piece raised or lowered.

Shark Evoline Pro Carbon Helmet modular open
Shark Evo can be ridden in the open position

But usually the flip-up chin bar is only convenient when you are stopped.

It allows you to hold a conversation with people, take a photo and sometimes fill up with fuel.

Modular helmets: disadvantagesSuomy D20 modular helmet open

The main disadvantage of modular helmets is the extra weight of the hinge and locking mechanism.

This compromises the integrity of the shell, so they usually rate lower in crash protection than a lot of full-face helmets.

The two-piece shell also means there is a crack where the wind and noise can get in so they can be louder than a full-face helmet.

Their locking mechanism can sometimes jam shut or fail to lock.

Did I mention that some of them are very big and just look ridiculous?

  • Do you wear an open-face, full-face or modular helmet and why? Leave your comments below.

11 Comments

  1. I’ve been road riding since 1970 (legally since 1974), I’ve ridden in temperatures from -7 to 47 deg. I’ve ridden for a living as a courier. What you say about cool, hearing etc is just plain wrong. Open face helmets less tiring on long hot rides, what a crock of cow droppings. Have you ever ridden 8 hours at over 40deg? Just look at the HD clowns in open helmets, they are never smiling and on hot days have to ride with their underpants over their faces. Have you ever smacked a galah, swarm of bees or an owl with you face at over 100kph, hit the deck after clocking a kangaroo?
    I think that you should be far more responsible when writing about safety, people read what you write and believe it.

  2. I’ve got an ugly mug. I love my ‘new Shark flip face so I’m ready to go into inanity mode in one quick swipe. But seriously, it might be a little heavier but it means I can ride around town flip up. And when I hit the hwy, flip down. The modulars are definitely getting lighter and better. AND, I’ve got an ugly mug.

  3. After I had a accident , was taken to hospital, where the first thing the emergency trauma doctor asked was did you have a full face or open face helmet-reply open face-he then said good those full face can break your neck

  4. Ha, decisions decisions.

    Isn’t it good we have a choice and don’t have to conform to someone else s opinion about what we should wear. I worry when we start to argue among ourselves about which is the best this or the best that, or this one is safer than that one. The fact that we are forced to wear helmets is bad enough, lets not give the authorities any more ammunition to enable them to justify imposing more controls on us. Enjoy what little freedom we have and let’s not draw anymore attention to ourselves. Shussssshhhhh.

  5. I must wear prescription glasses and my license is so annotated. I find that a full face helmet is a pain putting it on and taking it off with glasses. I also find it uncomfortable whilst wearing the helmet with glasses. I prefer the open face helmet and find it much more convenient and less crowded. I use prescription safety sun glasses for my eye wear. I know the safety issue is always used in these arguments but I prefer to ride safely and avoid the need for extreme safety equipment.

  6. I am on my second Shark Evoline3 in six years – first one was stolen off my bike. I also have a full face AGV – but seldom wear it. I ride with chin bar up most of the time except at highway speeds or if it’s cold. It’s a bit noisy but I’m used to that and wear Earmolds.

  7. Great article. However what many fail to recognize, is in the full face open face debate is some of us suffer claustrophobia, and its effects upon the rider to breathe normally, relax, and ride in an aware/safe manner.

    I have managed this type of phobia for many years, by using open face lids, but recently, especially for longhaul holidays, I purchased a Shark evoline 3. Which is used more than 99.9% of the time in the open position, only in the wildest weather events has it been closed, but even then, the visor remained only half closed to manage the effect of claustrophobia.

    Will I replace the Shark evoline 3 with another? With my inability to ride with the chin bar locked down and the visor fully closed, especially in wild weather, an open face with a good depth visor is what would seem, as the only sensible option for me.

    Just my 2 cents

  8. You’ve forgotten several of the advantages of a modular helmet. You don’t have to wrestle with your glasses (sun or prescription) when putting the helmet on or off. It’s also easier when refuelling. Several gasstations want you to remove your helmet (mugshot?), but I’ve never had this problem with a modular helmet. Just flip the chin, smile to the camera and fill her up. It’s also a lot easier when paying. At least, that’s over here in the Netherlands.

  9. “I was once told that if you don’t wear an open-face helmet you are not a real biker.” That just shows that some people talk absolute rubbish. I remember Harley-Ferguson riders saying the same thing about bikes with electric start when that feature first appeared on Japanese models. Show me an HD now with kick start – I guess that means none of the people riding HD are now “real bikers” either!

  10. I have an open face and a full face. It is nice to have a choice. Which one I wear depends on various factors, not all of which are climatic.
    I’ve never had a modular helmet yet. Maybe one day.

  11. Hey Mark, great article.

    I actually have at least one of each type of helmet, but more than one open face.

    One other advantage to modular helmets that probably isn’t legal in my case is that I can flip up and have a drink of water whilst riding. Great in the heat and better than a camelbak.

    I use my helmet based on the type of ride I’m doing and on which bike. Modular for a longer trip on my tourer, fullface on my MT01 when doing some nice twisty roads, and my openfaces when just cruising on either my vintage motorcycles or MT01 or TRX. Yep I’m lucky enough to have a few.

    Only other comment would be in relation to weather and temperature. Less likely to wear an openface in the rain and to a lesser extent, extreme cold. Having said that, it is enjoyable to use an open face in the extreme cold with a neck sock. I live above 800M, so can be cold riding to work.

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